Predicting Good Bites on the Great Lakes

Based on the mild weather conditions throughout the area, Great Lakes anglers should be able to jumpstart their season and increase their opportunities for success.

Lake Michigan
“The lake is warmer this year, which should help with prey fish survival and growth,” Jay Wesley said. “I would expect chinook salmon catch rates to be higher this year along with cohos.”

He added lake trout will be available in good numbers and the harvests are predicted to be better than 2016.

Based on the 2016 creel estimates, chinooks came in first place among the most popular fish caught by Lake Michigan anglers.

“Of the 127, 568 salmon and trout harvested in 2016, 34 percent were chinook salmon, 31 percent were lake trout, 17 percent were steelhead, 16 percent were cohos and 1 percent was brown trout,” Wesley said. “In addition, 198, 405 yellow perch were harvested along with 4, 353 walleyes in 2016.”

Lake Huron
Fishing guide Gene Kirvan has owned Calypso Sportfishing Charters for decades in Oscoda, Mich. He anticipates an outstanding season for both the Lower Ausable River and Lake Huron.

“Considering this early spring thaw, how many steelhead wintered in the Lower Ausable and how many more steelies the spring run will bring in, we should be expecting excellent steelhead fishing,” Kirvan said. “As long as the water temperatures don’t spike, this run could last several weeks.”

He also says he expects the offshore fishery to be pretty good this summer.

“We experienced a strong smelt forage base last year, and if there are no extreme changes in the lake, I see this to continue.”         He added that a mixed bag of lake trout, steelhead, Atlantic salmon and walleyes would be found by most.

“The diverse Lake Huron fishery appears to be making a comeback and the outlook for the 2017 season for Huron is excellent,” according to Randall Claramunt, DNR basin coordinator for Lake Huron. “In Saginaw Bay, the yellow perch harvest appears to be on the rise and the smallmouth bass fishery is strong.”

Last year’s fishing season was successful for many anglers fishing on the “sunrise side.”

“At all of the main fishing ports, over 30,000 lake trout and over 115,000 walleyes were harvested in 2016, meeting DNR expectations,” Claramunt said. “The steelhead fishery almost doubled from 2015 to 2016 with Harbor Beach and Port Sanilac ports leading the way.”

He added that it was also the “year of the pinks,” with almost 8,000 salmon. The ports of Alpena, Les Cheneaux Islands and Detour reported the greatest catches.

“Our investment in the Atlantic Salmon program produced the third-highest lake-wide harvest ever with over 1,500 in the catch.”

Cohos were also in the Lake Huron catch, with 13 different ports reporting a coho harvest in 2016, he says.

Claramunt concluded that they are in the process of creating a Lake Huron “Road Map,” which will detail the fishing opportunities offered throughout this body of water.

Lake Erie
Anglers fishing for perch and walleyes on Lake Erie can expect to find many opportunities to fill their limits this season, according to Jim Francis, DNR basin coordinator.

“The catch on Lake Erie is dominated by two species: yellow perch and walleyes,” Francis says. “In 2016, half of the fishing efforts in Michigan and the waters of Lake Erie (250,000 angler hours) were targeted at yellow perch and the harvest was 1.2 million perch. The catch was made up of mostly the 2013 and 2014 year-classes (ages 2 and 3), and the good year-classes recorded in 2015 and 2016 will continue to support a quality fishery.”

He says there were twice as many walleyes released last year as harvested, and this is due to a good year-class in 2014 and a strong year-class in 2015. These fish contributed to the catch, but because they were not large enough to exceed the minimum size limit of 15 inches, they were released.

“That bodes well for the future as those fish grow and begin to contribute to the fishery.”

Francis remains optimistic for both of these popular species.

“The yellow perch fishing last year on Lake Erie set records for catch rates and harvests, and we anticipate the good fishing will continue, supported by four good year-classes.

The forecast for walleyes looks good as the 2014 and 2015 year-classes grow more.

Francis also offered advice for anglers targeting walleyes on Erie.

“Walleye anglers generally hit Lake Erie as soon as the ice is off the water, but fishing generally gets more reliable from mid-May through July.”

Lake Superior
“Fishing Lake Superior, like most places, is highly dependent on the weather and therefore hard to predict,” says Phillip Schneeberger, DNR basin coordinator for Lake Superior. “However, in general, fishing for lean lake trout (straight snout, lower body fat)—the bread-and-butter species in Superior—is fairly reliable throughout the open-water season out of (west to east) Black River Harbor, Silver City, Ontonoagon, Bete Gris, Traverse Bay, Keweenaw Bay, Marquette, Au Train, Munising and Grand Marais.”

According to the recent DNR creel estimates, the top three fish caught on Superior in 2016 were lean lake trout at 29, 215, coho salmon at 8,995 and 6,666 lake whitefish.

Superior, the largest body of fresh water in the world, offers anglers numerous fishing opportunities throughout the year.

“Salmon (chinooks, cohos) and lake whitefish are other prominent species caught more seasonally during spring and fall out of the same ports listed for lake trout,” Schneeberger said. “Brown trout, rainbow trout, siscowet lake trout (snubbed nose, higher fat content) are favorite targets as well.”

He added that splake enthusiasts are most successful out of Copper Harbor and Munising, especially in the spring, fall and through the ice.

The 2017 stocking schedule for Superior is as follows: up to 12,000 browns, 70,000 rainbow yearlings, 50,000 rainbow fall fingerlings and 70,000 splake yearlings.

“Lake Superior offers unique opportunities for anglers who are up to the challenge and enjoy the unparalleled beauty of this magnificent resource,” Schneeberger said. “This lake supports a variety of species that thrive in the clean, clear and cold waters. Almost all of the fish anglers seek are native or naturalized populations that are self-sustaining through natural reproduction.”